© GIZ / Marcel Keller / Gabi Kratochwill

Intercultural Competence

Turning Differences into Shared Success

Showing respect and dignity in intercultural contexts is the key to success in international cooperation. Respectful cooperation creates the best basis for projects initiated in partnership to achieve a lasting impact. In order to acquire – or maintain – an open attitude towards people from different backgrounds, it is useful to have one skillset that can be learned: intercultural competence.

For this reason, intercultural competence is a key part of our programme of preparation for working in international cooperation. We will work with you to develop diversity skills. Although this may sound rather vague, our approach is entirely practical: our training courses involve real-life examples of situations that are interculturally challenging. You will acquire greater awareness of yourself and those around you and learn not to see difference as an obstacle but as an opportunity and a source of new ideas and solutions.

Intercultural competence training courses are offered as face-to-face events. In addition, participants can take advantage of AIZ coaching services once they arrive in a partner country.

What exactly is intercultural competence?

Intercultural competence means the ability to deal constructively with people from different backgrounds and to cooperate with them successfully and independently. Of fundamental importance here is the fact that people’s identity is not determined merely by their origins in a given country, but by a number of different ‘cultures’ and characteristics (e.g. gender, education and profession, age, place of birth and of residence, nationality (or nationalities) of parents, political leanings, sexual orientation etc.). Intercultural competence means being sensitive to others’ views and value systems, while being aware of one’s own cultural context – and retaining the ability to reflect on it in a critical manner.

Why is intercultural competence important?

As well as the huge number of positive impressions they encounter, people who live and work abroad can find themselves in situations that spawn frustration and disappointment, when they come up against the limits of mutual understanding with people from a partner country. This can include culture shock, as one sufferer reports in the short video available in the link below. Intercultural competence helps us to recognise and overcome such obstacles more easily and to tap into the benefits offered by diversity.

What role does intercultural competence play in international cooperation?

It is important in international cooperation to respond with cultural sensitivity. Firstly, so that we can ascertain partners’ expectations and thus initiate appropriate measures. And secondly, in order to ensure that shared projects are implemented effectively. Mutual respect and a readiness to question one’s own value system are a prerequisite for building stable partnerships and for developing new ideas and solutions together. Those who are able to demonstrate cultural sensitivity will minimise potential difficulties during a foreign assignment or in connection with cooperation in international teams.


‘Intercultural competence is an extremely important topic. It is the foundation of project work (…) and determines whether a project will succeed or fail. For specialist staff it is more important than specialist competence.’ (From the questionnaire submitted by a participant in AIZ’s Preparation for International Assignment course, conducted in 2016, six months after the participant’s arrival in a partner country).

Can intercultural competence be acquired?

Our training courses don’t focus on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of correct behaviour in other cultural contexts. We provide a toolbox that helps course participants to deal with irritations and obstacles and to see these as opportunities. That means they are able to maintain the ability to respond appropriately and continue acting constructively in unfamiliar and ‘ambiguous’ situations.  
Our range of services focuses on acquiring a personal mindset which provides a point of orientation when faced with very unfamiliar challenges. After all, an open mind and readiness to embrace difference are essential if you are to work with others to develop something new.

Additional information